The dilemma between reading books on paper and on a screen

As we reside in the digital age, are e-books going to take over paperback books?

Shannon Kuan

Weird talents include playing the violin, but with a ukulele and a clothes hanger.

Published: 28 October 2020, 5:03 PM

As the era of technology takes over, we grow more and more dependent on digital media as everything we know turns virtual.

And what’s not to like about technology? Since the creation of the Internet, the digital world has become easily accessible and information is always available at our fingertips.

However, there is still comfort in tradition. Change is inevitable, but it does not mean that we have to reject what we grew up with. And I think this is especially so when it comes to books.

Personally, I grew up as a child who loved reading. You could find me engrossed in a new book every day, and was able to finish a 600-page novel in a single day.


My bookshelf was overflowing, and I could never run out of books to read as I would reread older books again. PHOTO CREDIT: ANETA PAWLIK VIA UNSPLASH


Growing up with the smell of parchment, the feeling of paper under my fingers as I flipped through pages, and seeing the thickness of the pages decrease as I read was a feeling I never grew tired of.

So when the popularity of electronic books increased, I was confused why anyone would be interested in it. But when my friends started buying Kindles and using online sites to read, I realised that both mediums had their pros and cons.


When it comes to convenience, e-books definitely get the points. E-books are book publications available in digital format, consisting of text and sometimes images that are readable on various compatible electronic devices.

As they come in lightweight devices that have the ability to contain a multitude of different stories, they are easy to read on the go. Additionally, you are able to carry as many books as you want in one small device and save so much physical space!


Kindles enable users to borrow, purchase and read e-books, newspapers, magazines and other digital media. PHOTO CREDIT: BALÁZS KÉTYI VIA UNSPLASH


Compared to having to take out a physical book to read and flip through pages, it is definitely more convenient to use an electronic device and scroll with a single finger. E-books are great for those who enjoy reading on public transport and consuming food while reading.


When it comes to immersiveness, I personally find physical books better.

Being able to hold the pages in your hand, flipping them as your eyes take in the words on paper while smelling the faint musty and almost sweet scent of wood elevates the whole reading experience.

Meanwhile, e-books are simply words on a flat screen. If you’re using a device connected to social media, notifications popping up can be a distraction, making you lose focus and your train of thought while reading.


When I am in the midst of reading a book, I find myself forgetting to check my phone for hours. PHOTO CREDIT: POLINA ZIMMERMAN VIA PEXELS

User experience

If we are talking about which medium is more user friendly, e-books definitely deserve the win here. 

Depending on the electronic device you are using, features to aid in reading can be added and tweaked for different means. For those with eyesight issues such as cataracts, text size can be increased so one can read the words clearly. The blind can use audio narration or text-to-speech features to listen to the stories being read aloud.

E-books are also easier to read for those with physical disabilities that may find it tough to flip through pages. Dyslexic people can also change the text font, making the words easier for them to process and digest. Physical books are unable to provide all these.


As the saying goes, “don’t judge a book by its cover”. 

However, I do feel more compelled to read books that have beautiful cover illustrations and designs. While the main point of books should definitely be about their content, the innate biases within our beings do initially lead us towards cover art we deem more attractive.

One of my favourite types of book covers is when the books can be lined up perfectly to form a full picture when arranged in order. This looks especially appealing when displayed on a bookshelf.


The spines of each The Mortal Instruments book has a different character illustrated, all connected in order to depict a full picture. PHOTO CREDIT: PINTEREST/@WALDINA CABALLERO


Now, this is something e-books fail to provide. As they are all contained in electronic devices, there is no need for intricate book designs. E-books are built for convenience and accessibility, not aesthetics.

But as someone who romanticises the idea and process of reading, I do prefer the sight of books on a shelf and flipping through actual pages in a quaint cafe.

The survival of physical books in the digital age

Both mediums definitely have their advantages and disadvantages. One may prefer the traditional way of reading paperback books, while another favours modern lightweight e-books. And there is no right or wrong reading preferences or habits.

Although I do read stories and user-written fiction on my phone – something that’s unavailable in actual book form – I still have a preference for reading physical books. 

Of course, digitalisation is not a negative thing, but I’m glad that even in a technologically advanced world, there is still some longevity in reading words on actual paper. 

At the end of the day, whether you prefer to read words on a paper or on a screen, the most important thing is that the habit of reading never goes out of trend.

As the wise Dumbledore once said: “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.”

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